Re: [asa] Bayesian inference and design inference

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sat Sep 19 2009 - 20:19:53 EDT

Heya Iain,

Thanks for the exchange. Some replies below.

If I understand you correctly you are saying that if you already
> suspect that the Designer exists then you might well make Design
> inferences. (In terms of my argument you would say that there is a
> finite prior probability of the existence of the Designer). I think
> the distinction to be made is that even given you believe in God, as
> the bible says "no-one has seen God" (John 1:18). We may believe (I
> do believe) that God created the universe and everything in it - but
> still accept that the working out of all of this came about by
> evolution. But in the case of a watch, you actually know not only
> that human beings capable of making watches exist, but you also have
> positive evidence and witness that they actually do make watches. If
> someone had actually seen an Intelligent Designer actually fabricate a
> biological organism, then one would be justified in drawing the design
> inference over other organisms.

I want to be careful here. I'm not saying 'Well if you believe in
Christianity/the Christian God beforehand...' - I think that's true in its
own way, but I'm setting much looser standards. When I say Designer, I mean
Designer in the broader, weaker sense - not necessarily a specific deity.
Not even necessarily a deity in the traditional sense (though I'd think that
anything that 'designed our universe' would have to be defined as a deity

And of course, someone can accept God created everything in it, and that
evolution also plays a major role. I have no objection to believing in God
and accepting evolution as real (Dembski claims this is possible too even in
an ID context, but sometimes it seems otherwise, or at least like a
possibility he doesn't care to give much attention to). But you say 'if
someone has actually seen an Intelligent Designer actually fabricate a
biological organism...' My response is - well, how much do you want? Because
we've seen that with animal husbandry. We've seen that with cloning, with
genetic alteration, etc. We've seen evolutionary concepts in design work,
etc. And we're going to see more of it as the years press on.

> Also it is interesting your choice of the word "hallmark". A hallmark
> is usually an extra symbol that identifies the designer, like on a
> piece of silver, or the artist's signature at the bottom of the
> painting, or a serial number on the computer case. The hallmark itself
> is not part of the mechanism of operation of the artefact. It would
> be like some encoded extra message in the DNA of the organism (
> perhaps like an Acrostic poem). It is not hard to see how this could
> be contrived to happen, given the redundancy of DNA codons (64 codons,
> 21 amino acids). If one found something like that, rather like the
> prime number sequence in Sagan's "Contact", then one might well have
> found a "hallmark" of design.

Well, I'm using hallmark in a looser sense than that - not an explicit
'signature'. On the other hand, I wonder why 'hallmark' in your sense must
be 'an extra encoded message', rather than the mere presence of coded
language in nature itself. But I know that's a whole other issue.

> I'm not quite sure what you mean here. Is it that we have more
> evidence for "Designers" (ie us) than for mechanistic processes
> leading to design?

Not exactly. More that 'mechanistic processes' alone aren't the issue,
because such processes can always be employed by a designer in the service
of a goal anyway. On that front, we have undeniable, direct evidence that
"designers" (us) exist and design, even with and through mechanistic
processes (even using evolutionary principles). We have zero direct evidence
for "undesigned" processes - in fact, we can't even get such in principle.
It would always be an assumption, a "well a REAL designer would never have
done it that way" conclusion. More on this below.

> If so, I think the flaw is that we know we are not intelligent or
> complex enough to design ourselves - the Dawkins argument that the
> designer has to be more complex than the designed. So I don't see
> that we have a default "design" explanation of Design.

Well, here's Dawkins' argument as I understand it: If you're going to argue
that it's wildly improbable that the universe would 'just exist' as it is,
then it's even more improbable that some designer capable of designing the
wildly improbable universe would 'just exist', because said designer would
be more complex than any universe they would create.

Now, there are powerful responses to that relating to divine simplicity, God
as pure act, etc that utterly wipe out the conclusion. Or other responses,
with God as being part of a "higher reality", as you say. But I'm not making
an appeal to complexity here, but to bare evidence. We have direct evidence
of some design, undeniable to a point approximating cogito ergo sum. Nothing
in nature could not, in principle, be itself designed - the one potential
candidate for that used to be 'the universe', but now we have some
scientists willing to entertain multiverse explanations, or (naturalist!)
philosophers, even scientists willing to talk about simulated universes as a
live possibility, etc. So even if the evidence is inconclusive (and keep in
mind, we're talking purely about design and engineering observation here -
not even touching on the common philosophical arguments, etc), what evidence
we have favors design. Note that I'm not appealing to irreducible complexity
here, or unsolved problems in natural science, etc.

There's an obvious response here: Well, fine, but even if that's the best
(or only) inference from evidence, this doesn't rule out that the designer
was designed (I admit this, since clearly 'we' were designed in some sense
if this is true) or couldn't care less, or is malicious, etc, etc.

For the purposes of this discussion, though, I accept all that. Sure, if
successful it establishes "Design" as a superior explanation, but it could
be an eternal march of designers begetting designers, or a malicious
designer, etc. My response: If any one of these possibilities is true, ID is
true, and atheism is false. So for the atheist it's a moot point. The theist
then has to move on and try to understand the nature of the designer(s) and
whatever relationship they have with us, if any.

> (BTW I DON'T accept the Dawkins complexity of the designer argument in
> full - it can only apply if the Designer is part of the material
> universe, in which case the more complex the more improbable. However
> if the designer is transcendent and part of a "higher reality" then
> all bets are off about the relative probability of such a being
> existing).

I'd agree. Though I think even 'part of the material universe' is trickier
to gauge probabilities of than most people admit.

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Received on Sat Sep 19 20:21:01 2009

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